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Public safety departments run modified cadet classes during pandemic

Wednesday, June 3, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

At the Public Safety Commission’s Monday meeting, Austin Police Department, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services and Austin Fire Department representatives discussed how cadet classes that were delayed due to Covid-19 (and other issues) will move forward.

ATCEMS Chief of Staff Jasper Brown told the commission that the department had planned a set of oral interviews for March, which were postponed. They are now scheduled to take place in July.

“This is our initial entry point into the department,” he said. “Other departments use a test and then they also do an oral interview later. The structured oral interview is our initial entry, scoring and that’s what ranks them accordingly on civil service.”

He said the department is checking with the Civil Service Office to determine if any of the process can take place online. The class was initially scheduled to begin in August, but will undoubtedly be pushed back and could possibly resume at the end of October.

“We only have 40 openings currently,” he said. “That’s really good for us. In our other ranks, we usually had openings there, but we closed the gap in our promotional ranks, and we’re down to now just entry level. We’re short 40 personnel right now, but hope to bring in 20 to 30 in October or early November. And we’ll be on our way, provided nothing else changes.”

When the pandemic hit, AFD had two cadet classes already in session, filled from a list of 200 applicants. The department accelerated the cadets in one of the classes (Class 128) who were already pre-certified and graduated them early. The other class (Class 129) is scheduled to graduate at the end of July.

“There are still approximately 33 people that have gone all the way through our hiring process; they’re just waiting on a job offer,” said AFD Chief of Staff Rob Vires. “That’s how we’re going to fill our class that’s scheduled for October.”

However, applicant processing of the next 200 candidates has been delayed due to the shifting of staffing resources at the department Wellness Center, several members of which have been deployed to support Covid-19 testing for public safety personnel across Austin-Travis County. Still, AFD is scheduled to have two cadet classes in 2021.

Assistant Police Chief Brent Dupre said as soon as the pandemic hit, the Austin Police Department called the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to come up with a plan for moving forward with cadet classes. The commission approved APD’s plan to move the cognitive portion of the class online “so that we could have cadets at home and learning virtually.”

In May, the city made the decision to delay training for a month in order to review training materials, as part of a City Council resolution aimed at undoing racism in the department.

APD plans to call the cadets back to campus next week.

Dupre also reported that the recruitment program is still working as best as it can considering the circumstances. Some portions of the recruitment process were pushed back, such as on-site written testing.

“We are currently on track to have all the people who have submitted applications to still be in the process and being approved,” Dupre said.

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